N.Koreans make asylum bid at Danish embassy in Vietnam

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Báo Tuổi Trẻ English - 103 month(s) ago 4 readings

A group of North Koreans seeking political asylum has entered Denmark's embassy in Hanoi, the ambassador and an activist said on Thursday.

Danish Ambassador Peter Hansen confirmed to Reuters that North Korean citizens had entered his embassy on Thursday, but he declined to say how many or answer further questions.

Kim Sang-heon, a South Korean activist who helps North Koreans defect, said: "I sent nine North Koreans to the embassy, accompanied by other South Korean activists."

"They are seeking asylum," Kim said.

South Korea's Foreign Ministry would not comment on the incident. The South typically refrains from speaking about asylum bids by North Korean defectors.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry did not have an immediate comment.

More than 16,000 North Koreans have defected to the South since the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, almost all in the past 10 years, according to the South's Unification Ministry.

The North Korean defectors mostly come from the poorest parts of the destitute, isolated state and usually flee over a sparsely patrolled border with China. They then seek passage to the South via a third country because Beijing sees them as economic refugees and forcibly repatriates North Koreans.

Once returned to the North, would-be defectors face jail terms in the North's brutal political prisons, human rights groups have said.

The most frequently used jumping-off point has been Thailand but North Korean defectors have also tried to gain entry to diplomatic missions in China, Vietnam, Laos and Mongolia in order to get asylum eventually in South Korea.

Hanoi tries to keep good relations with both South Korea, a major source of investment, and North Korea, an ideological ally.

In 2004, Seoul airlifted 468 North Koreans from Vietnam, infuriating Pyongyang. Six months later, South Korea announced it would never attempt a large-scale refugee rescue again.

The number of defectors arriving in the South has more than doubled between 2005 and 2008, when 2,809 were granted asylum, the Unification Ministry said.

More people are attempting to flee the North due to deteriorating economic conditions, with brokers and activists becoming more skilled in helping them.

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